The Importance of PLOTS

January 20, 2009 by  

By Doug Leier

Plots sign that can be found all over North Dakota

Plots sign that can be found all over North Dakota

Next to sunflowers, Private Lands Open to Sportsmen signs are probably the most visible yellow found across the prairies of North Dakota this autumn.

Over the past decade, PLOTS signs have become synonymous with quality habitat open for hunting access. The signs mark the boundaries of parcels of private land that landowners have opened to walking hunters through an agreement with the North Dakota Game and Fish Department.

But PLOTS is more than just acreage to hunt. The program was designed so land enrolled was not plowed fields or heavily grazed pasture. Game and Fish accomplished that at first by working with landowners who had Conservation Reserve Program grasslands that were good pheasant habitat, and in parts of the state contained wetlands as well.

Called CRP cost-share, this program provides landowners with half the cost of the grass seed, up to $20 per acre, to open the CRP field and often some of the surrounding area, to walking hunting access for the duration of the CRP contract.

CRP cost-share has been a popular program with landowners, accounting for about 250,000 of the nearly 700,000 acres currently enrolled in the PLOTS program.

That leaves something like 450,000 acres of PLOTS land in the state that doesn’t always look like a CRP field that could harbor enough pheasants to make for an enjoyable walk. Included under the Game and Fish Department’s private land umbrella are programs called working lands, native forest conservation, food plots, habitat, tree planting, wetland reserve, waterbank, beginning farmer and Coverlocks for Conservation. All these programs may lead to confusion about what can or should dwell beyond the yellow triangular signs.

The bottom line is, PLOTS are more than just CRP acreages and in recent years the range of these has spread into all corners of the state providing, access for waterfowl, deer and other hunting habitats.

This year, especially, hunters will likely notice a greater variety of land uses behind the signs. The new working lands program has been a nice addition to the PLOTS group, with landowners enrolling nearly 250,000 acres in less than a year.

WLP is a short-term program designed to evaluate the wildlife value of lands actively farmed or ranched, while providing public access. The current farming or ranching management practices of the lands are evaluated by biologists, who place values on components such as conservation practices, good stewardship and quality of hunting habitat and public access.

Even on the best WLP tracts, however, hunters will still see areas that aren’t worth hunting. But somewhere in the parcel there should be a decent hunting option for waterfowl, pheasants, deer or other species.

The 2004 PLOTS guide identifies working lands tracts with an orange border around the boundary, while other programs do not have a border. In the field, however, most PLOTS signs do not indicate under which program the parcel falls.

The yellow PLOTS signs will be a visible product of the ever-changing landscape this fall. While many CRP cost-share and other PLOTS program acres are under contract for several more years, most working lands tracts are part of short-term agreements that will be up for renewal in a couple of years. If future sign-ups are anywhere close to what we’ve seen in 2004, the yellow signs should remain a fixture for many years to come.

If you want to learn more about the Game and Fish Department private lands initiative, contact agency headquarters in Bismarck at 701.328.6300 or logon to


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